Aug 5, 2020

TRANSFIGURATION: WHAT IT IS NOT

Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

There three Gospel traditions of what has become known at the Transfiguration of Jesus. They are as follows:
Matthew Chapter 17
1 Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a high mountain to be alone with them. 2 And before their eyes, Jesus was transfigured—his face becoming as dazzling as the sun and his clothes as radiant as light. 3 Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with Jesus. 4 Then Peter said, “Rabbi, how good that we are here! With your permission I will erect three shelters here—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” 5 Peter was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them. Out of the cloud came a voice which said, “This is my Own, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests. Listen to him!” 6 When they heard this, the disciples fell forward on the ground, overcome with fear. 7 Jesus came toward them and touched them, saying, “Get up! Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they did not see anyone but Jesus.
Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible. Sheed & Ward. 
Mark Chapter 9
2 Six days after that, Jesus took Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. And there Jesus was transfigured before their eyes; 3 the clothes Jesus wore became dazzlingly white—whiter than any earthly bleach could make them. 4 Elijah appeared to them, as did Moses, and the two were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter spoke to Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “how wonderful it is for us to be here! Let us make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” 6 Peter did not know what he was saying, so overcome were they all with awe. 7 Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them; and there came a voice from out of the cloud: “This is my Beloved, my Own; listen to this One.” 8 Then suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore—only Jesus.
Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible. Sheed & Ward. 
Luke Chapter 9
28 About eight days after saying this, Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance and the clothes he wore became dazzlingly white. 30 Suddenly two people were there talking with Jesus—Moses and Elijah. 31 They appeared in glory and spoke of the prophecy that Jesus was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and the others had already fallen into a deep sleep, but awakening, they saw Jesus’ glory—and the two people who were standing next to him. 33 When the two were leaving, Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, how good it is for us to be here! Let’s set up three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” Peter didn’t really know what he was saying. 34 While Peter was speaking, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and the disciples grew fearful as the others entered it. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice which said, “This is my Own, my Chosen One. Listen to him!” 36 When the voice finished speaking, they saw no one but Jesus standing there. The disciples kept quiet, telling nothing of what they had seen at that time to anyone.
Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible. Sheed & Ward.
Just as some information about this day of commemoration, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and the Orthodox Church (along with some others) celebrate this day on August 6, For United Methodists, and other mainline Protestant Churches, recognize this day as the last Sunday after Epiphany (which is also the Sunday before Ash Wednesday).

Thus, most of us may be used to hearing these Scriptures read as a conclusion to the Christmas cycle and as a transition into Lent and the Easter cycle. To acknowledge the Transfiguration in August gives us the opportunity to read it differently, if you will...to hear and respond to these lections in a new way.

The issue at hand is not how or when we celebration the Transfiguration. Rather, it is the imagery we find in the text.
In Mark..."Jesus was transfigured before their eyes; the clothes Jesus wore became dazzlingly white—whiter than any earthly bleach could make them."
In Luke..."While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance and the clothes he wore became dazzlingly white."
In Matthew..."Jesus was transfigured—his face becoming as dazzling as the sun and his clothes as radiant as light."
While the Evangelists tell the story using analogies of color, that is what we need to understand. 

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Shaun King

The Transfiguration is not about color, per se, but rather, it is about the glorification of Jesus as the Beloved One of God. It matters not if Jesus if Jesus becomes a transfigured "white" except for the reality that Jesus was not "white".
Thinking in terms of color does a disservice to the narrative. To be certain, there are other colors than white that are able to reveal a transfiguration. In fact, there are few visions as brilliantly transformed as a colorful Autumn here in the northeastern forests. 

We need to employ analogies of radiance that are not a contradiction between black of white. We live in a world where people of color are oppressed and exploited as if the color of their skin somehow fits into a dichotomy of white being good and black being the absence of good.

We begin to take this matter seriously when we first identify that Jesus, himself, was not a Caucasian person. Clearly, he was a person within the Palestinian ethnicity, being of darkened skin color and not white (as we define white today and through history as Anglo and European). 

Secondly, must affirm with all good reason and wisdom that in the transfiguration narrative, Jesus was not transformed into a Caucasian person. Again, doing justice to the text is to identify the transfiguration revealing glory; And, glory comes in all colors!

In this time, and as the world and out nation is keenly aware of racism--especially within Christianity--it is long past time to find new ways to talk about color and to talk about people. 

Being created in the image of God, we cannot dismiss any person of color as being other than revealing that image. The church fails to be in the way of Jesus when it fails to exist within justice and peace where every person is not only equal but also has an equity of access to all things temporal and eternal, spatial and spiritual.






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